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A Guide To Inkjet Cartridges

An ink cartridge is a replaceable component of an ink jet printer that contains the ink (and usually the print-head itself), that is jetted onto the paper during printing. Each ink cartridge contains one, or more, partitioned ink reservoirs.  Certain manufacturers also add electronic contacts and a chip that communicates with the printer, to allow the printer to control the flow of ink onto the paper, as was sent by the computer system.

How It Works?

Thermal Inkjets.

Most consumer inkjet printers, such as Canon, HP, and Lexmark (but not Epson printers) use a thermal inkjet. Inside each partition of the ink jet (in the cartridge print head) is a heating element with a tiny metal plate or resistor. In response to a signal given by the printer, a tiny current flow through the metal or resistor makes it warm up, and the ink immediately surrounding the heated plate is vaporized into a tiny ink bubble inside the nozzle. The total volume of the ink exceeds that of the nozzle, and an ink droplet is forced out of the cartridge nozzle at high speed onto the paper, in a process takes a matter of milliseconds.

This printing technology depends on the smooth flow of ink, which can be hindered if the ink begins to dry at the print head, as can happen when an ink level becomes low or the printer remains unused for long periods of time.  Dried ink can be cleaned from a cartridge print head, by gentle rubbing with isopropyl alcohol on a swab or folded paper towel. The ink also acts as a coolant to protect the metal-plate heating elements in the printhead: when the ink supply is depleted, and printing is attempted, the heating elements in thermal cartridges often burn out, permanently damaging the print head (but since cartridges are designed to be disposable, this is a normal part of the replacement process). When the ink first begins to run thin, the cartridge should be refilled or replaced, to avoid over-heating damage to the print-head (if you want to refill your cartridges).

Piezoelectric Inkjets:

Epson printers use a piezoelectric crystal in each nozzle instead of a heating element. When current is applied, the crystal changes shape or size, forcing a droplet of ink from the nozzle. A piezoelectric inkjet allows a wider variety of inks in a much finer quality than thermal inkjets, while more economical in ink usage.  Thus, can produce much higher resolutions for very low cost.

The Origins Of Inkjet Printing

Different types of inkjet printers form their droplets of ink in different ways. There are several technologies used by printer manufacturers, but by far the most popular technique is the inkjet printer technology initially known as the bubble jet developed by Canon in the mid 1980s (also the originator of today's laser printers). In a bubble jet technology printers, tiny resistors create heat, and this heat vaporizes ink to create a bubble. The expansion that creates the bubble causes a droplet to form and eject from the print head. A typical bubble jet print head has 64 or 128 tiny nozzles, and all of them can fire a droplet simultaneously.

Printing has evolved throughout the years with the technology that supports it. In the earlier days the dot matrix printers used a replaceable ribbon. This required regular ribbon changes in order to ensure the print quality. The very first ink jet printers and printer cartridges were introduced in 1984, and the industry found new ways to make printing easier and more convenient.

By 1990 ink jet print cartridges were widely accepted. Printer cartridges were able to print in color as well as in black and white. Inkjet printer cartridges can print on just about any sized paper, on fabric and on film. Ink jet printers are used in a variety of settings worldwide and are the most popular choice for printing.

Selecting The Best
Inkjet Cartridge For Your Use?

Each brand and model of printer uses a specific type of cartridge. Ink jet cartridges are given an identification number and the models that can use this particular cartridge, is listed. Today, there is a wide variety of cartridges available, and users should check their printerís manual to see exactly what cartridges are available for their specific printer.

Selecting the best Ink ink jet cartridge requires a number of factors for consideration. One must take a look not only at the features but also costs and benefits that are tied up with them. Here is a simple list that will serve as a basic guide when selecting ink jet cartridges.

But the choices are simple:

  • Original Brand (OEM) Cartridge
    While probably the most expensive option, it will always deliver the best quality printing due to their unique formulation of ink - but may not yield the largest number of pages (see our Guide To Print Yield).

  • After-Market Brand Cartridge
    Less expensive, and for most applications may produce very acceptable results - main differences will show in printing photos - but typically has much higher yield (they physically put more ink in the cartridge).  Brands of after market cartridge vary significantly due to ink formulations, thus well know brands (such as Rhinotek) are much better than unknown boiler room brands.

  • Refill Your Own
    Refilling a cartridge is generally a simple process, however, the kits vary wildly in their quality.

  • Use A Refill Service
    The benefit of a Refill Service can be simplicity, but they are cutting every corner - including in the quality of the ink.

If you are trying to save money, you can purchase refill kits that allow you to fill the cartridges yourself. Not everyone is a fan of these kits however, the quality of the printing isnít as good, and in some cases the cartridges when re-installed can fail to operate.

Ink Type
In choosing a printer check the type of cartridge it will use. You will need to determine if the cartridge is appropriate for the type of printing and the volume of printing you will be doing. Two of the most popular ink types are the HP's Vivera Inks and Epson's Durabrite Inks. HP Vivera Inks is a pigment-based ink technology suited for photo printing suites. Vivera inks are geared to premium photo printing for the high-end consumer. The drawback of After-market formulations is that they will not contain the OEM formula inks, so you will have to decide if you need the higher priced OEM product.

Availability and Accessibility
You can get discount ink cartridges from many sources. All you have to do is search for your ink or printer cartridge, to locate both After-market and OEM cartridges. Some sites offer amazing discounts. Pay attention to the cartridge packaging BEFORE YOU OPEN IT!  Check the sides of the box for a list of models the cartridge will work in.

Refilling Inkjet Cartridges

Something most printer owners need to know is how to successfully refill inkjet cartridges. Knowing this simple process will save a lot of time and mess.

Injecting Ink
Depending on the type of cartridge being refilled, ink can either be injected through a hole on top of the cartridge, or directly into the ink chambers after the top has been popped off. The ink can be injected directly from a bottle (with a needle tip on it) or from a needle filled with ink (the specifics vary with the type and brand of refill kit). The needle must be slowly inserted into the cartridge, per the package instructions to prevent damage to the cartridge. The ink must be slowly injected into the cartridge so as not to cause overfilling, or overflow to other-color ink reservoirs. (For colors, a label on the cartridge might have 3 ordered color-dots to indicate the corresponding 3 ink colors of the reservoir chambers. Some refill kits include a final step where a small amount of air is removed from the cartridge in order to restore the ink-fluid balance that was present inside the cartridge before the refilling.

Installing & Running
Once the cartridge is filled, sealed or the top is placed back on (if necessary) and the cartridge can be reinstalled in the printer. Extra ink flowing from the cartridge print-head can be wiped/blotted (for a few moments). On some cartridges the ink has a problem getting to the bottom of the cartridge (especially the colored cartridges), it must be forced to the bottom either by suction through the jet plate or by putting pressure from the top with a syringe to purge the ink through the jet plate very gently. It might be necessary to run the printer cleaning utilities on the refilled cartridge, in case any excess ink is leftover from the refilling process.

Cleaning the Printer Head
Sometimes the ink flow might be blocked by dried ink on the ink cartridge print-head. For color cartridges, typically one ink-color may fail to flow due to dried ink. The dried ink can be cleaned using isopropyl alcohol (50% or higher) on a swab or folded paper towel rubbed gently 3 or 4 times across the print-head. But, always follow the refill kit instructions to resolve this situation.

End Of Life

When a cartridge has reached its end of life, it is always important to recycle your printer cartridges.  Old cartridges are stripped down to the plastic, and only the plastic housing reused.  Recycling cartridges, helps the environment, and hold down the cost of new cartridges.  Most major manufacturers have recycling programs.  Be sure to visit your printer manufacturer's website for details of their recycling program.

Tags: Inkjet Printer, Inkjet cartridges